May 24, 2023
By Cara Gentry
In early 2020, as more and more people were finding comfort in spending time outdoors, I wrote a spring wildflower walk for Joppenbergh Mountain. Since then, many people have found a new balance in their lives incorporating the great outdoors as a more regular part of their routine and many people still preferring to gather outside now that outdoor meetings have become more common place. In honor of this expansion to include our open spaces more often in our daily routine, I have collected a wildflower walk part 2. While part one was focused on Joppenbergh Mountain, the flowers in part two can be found in several places in the Wallkill Valley and surrounding areas. I’ve included some native plants, some invasive plants, and some flowering trees to try and find while you are out enjoying some fresh air. My favorite field guide for flowers is Newcombs Wildflower Guide. Originally published in 1977, this guide will help you not only identify the wildflowers around you, but will inadvertently teach you family groups as you key out your find and you begin to learn without even trying. There are several other wildflower guides on the market and if you prefer a more modern approach to identification, I suggest trying out the iNaturalist app on your phone.
Most of our native wildflower populations are at risk due to illegal poaching. This includes picking flowers and harvesting the plants in an attempt to propagate on private land. Please let all wildflowers seen remain in place so they can thrive and spread naturally through our protected lands.
False Soloman’s Seal
Native to North America, the false Soloman’s Seal can be found in wooded banks and along trails and roadsides. The plant is a perennial with a long stem containing up to 12 alternate lance shaped leaves. The flower protrudes from a panicle with up to 200 tiny white star-shaped flowers. Plants tend to be on the edge of slopes and drape daintily over the slope. They spread slowly by thick rhizomes and therefore can form colonies along the slopes. After flowering, the plants produce brilliant red berries that can stay on the plants until fall, providing important food for wildlife.
This low growing plant has subtle hairy brown flowers that are typically hiding below large heart-shaped leaves. The flower has three pointed lobes on a cup-shaped structure. The root smells like ginger but this plant is not related to the ginger you find in the grocery stores. Native to the eastern united states, you can find these growing along the edges of trails and on the forest floor where they have adequate shade cover. The plant has been used by Native Americans as a spice and for antibiotic properties. Scientific research has found not only the antibiotic compounds in the plant, but also toxic compounds.
Eastern Prickly Pear
Many people do not realize that there is a cactus that is native to New York State, but here we have the eastern prickly pear. A true member of the cactus family, it ranges from Florida up into Ontario. The large yellow blooms are 2-3” wide and can be seen in early summer. Look for prickly pear cactus growing in a sprawled out fashion in sandy and rocky areas. The plant does produce a reddish fruit which, while edible, is not as sweet and palatable as the fruit from species found in your local Mexican grocery.
The horse chestnut tree is not native to North America but has been introduced as an ornamental in parks and cities. Native to the Balkins, and Turkey, the horse chestnut is not listed on the invasive species list for New York State and seems to fit in well with our native plants. The flowers are whitish to pinkish and on a pinnacle up to 12” tall with many flowers on each. The leaves are distinctive in they are a palmate compound leaf with 5-7 leaflets on each leaf. The young seeds are slightly poisonous and can cause horses who inadvertently consume them to become sick and lose coordination.
Also known as the tulip tree, this fast-growing native tree can get up to 90 feet tall, making the flowers a rare sight to see. The flowers are yellow and orange and resemble tulips, the leaf shape has also been likened to a cartoon drawing of a tulip. With a growth rate of 2 feet per year, the tulip poplar has been an important economic wood, being used to make dug-out canoes, fenceposts, shingles, toys, boats, boxes, paper pulp, and rail road ties. The seeds are important food for squirrels and birds. While the flowers are usually not visible, our trestle in Rosendale on the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail gives a canopy view of a tulip poplar at it’s south end. Make sure you get out there for a walk during blooming season in late May through early June.
While not known to be native to New York State, the catalpa tree is native to north America, has been planted as an ornamental and has naturalized throughout our area. The large trees have clustered showy white flowers with purple and yellow dotted centers that resemble orchids, but are not related. After flowering the tree produces long slender seed pods which you may find littering the forest floor in the fall. Mature trees can grow up to 70’ in height, making the flowers hard to see. You may see a nice specimen in the parking lot for the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail located at Rockwell Lane and Route 32 in Kingston. Look for the flowers starting in June and possibly into the summer months.
One of several plants that have white flower umbels on the end of a long stalk that are members of the carrot family. Cow parsnips are blooming now and could continue to bloom through September where conditions are favorable. The umbels can get up to 12” across and contain many small white flowers. The leaves are large, deeply divided and the stems are hollow and hairy. This native species is often confused with the dangerous and invasive giant hogweed. While not as toxic as the giant hogweed, the cow parsnip can cause a rash on people who come in contact with the sap on sunny days, so be warned and admire from afar.
Baneberry is native to New York State and is a member of the buttercup family. The flowers are in a dense cluster at the end of a long stem that sits above the deeply toothed leaves. The flower stalk becomes longer throughout the season as the flowers drop and are replaced by porcelain white berries with black spots that resemble dolls eyes. If that alone doesn’t sound a bit creepy, all parts of the plants are poisonous. The berries can cause cardiac arrest at its worst, severe cramps, dizziness, and diarrhea are milder potential symptoms. Although poisonous to humans, the pollen is utilized by native pollinators and the fruit is consumed by birds and small mammals.
Newcombs, L. , Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide. Little, Brown and Company. 1977
Petrides, GA, Peterson Field Guide Trees and Shrubs. Houghton Mifflin Company. 1986